Carol Spieckerman: Could you start off by giving me an overview of Coexist, and of how your Tumblr Commerce platform came about?
Dan Coe: We’ve been around for six years as a digital agency, working with brands such as Bath & Body Works, DSW, Victoria’s Secret, Lane Bryant, and a few others. We just signed up La Senza as well, but aren’t actively going after new clients on the agency side. We work completely through word of mouth. We have a handful of clients that we love to work with and who love to work with us, and we just keep supporting them.
Coexist has a strong foothold in social media and we do a lot of work on Facebook, basically involving customer acquisition and engagement. At the same time, our interest has always been in shopping experiences, and we see a tremendous opportunity with the digital shopping experience in particular. I don’t feel like enough brands are looking at e-commerce as way to simultaneously build the brand and sell online. We’re trying to show them how to do that better, and out of that decided to create our own platform.
Spieckerman: Did a particular project inspire you?
Coe: The project that started it all was our user-generated content contest on Tumblr for Bath & Body Works. It was through that project that we gained a lot of intimacy with the Tumblr API. Users could upload photos through Instagram using a direct upload that we created as a layer on top of Tumblr, through Twitter. We aggregated all of that content into a back end and then allowed our client to post through the content that they thought was a good fit for the Tumblr blog. As you can imagine, that required some pretty heavy lifting on the API side, and it made us realize that we had all of the components needed to add a commerce layer to a Tumblr blog.
We collectively saw the potential of what could be accomplished with the API and a light bulb turned on. We got really excited about that concept, and it kept growing and growing. The more thought we put into it, and the more that we started to design and build it out and work on the strategy, the more it felt like the way to go. Our goal is now to stay 100% focused on the Tumblr Commerce platform in the upcoming months.
Spieckerman: Are you talking to major brands about integrating Tumblr Commerce and really going after it?
Coe: Absolutely and we’re open to working in a number of different ways. We’re certainly talking to our clients about it and also looking outside of our current client base. We’re working with social media strategy agencies in New York and trying to see how the Tumblr Commerce platform might work for their clients. There are a lot of exciting things happening. One of them is just the reaction to the platform, and that we’re talking to clients across the board, including artisans and people who make products on a limited basis. To cover the amount of breadth that we do is pretty exciting.
Spieckerman: So you’re not just looking at creating new touch points for existing major brands, but also exploring ways that Tumblr Commerce can be a launch strategy.
Coe: Exactly. That’s why we’ve created the green level, so that anyone in the United States, and eventually the world, can create a Tumblr blog and make it shoppable. We have all the back-end components in place to take orders, accept payments, and even manage orders, and we programmed the entire platform from scratch. We want to be experts in selling on Tumblr, and the smaller entrepreneurs and fashion designers have been the first to reach out to us with some really innovative ideas.
Spieckerman: When you look at some of the major brands and retailers, in terms of how they’re expanding their platforms and all of the new touch points that they’re participating in, where do you see Tumblr Commerce playing in the mix? Is it a logical replacement for something, or is it complementary?
Coe: I think that’s a great question. Everyone should be looking toward efficiency. In the coming months, we’ll play a role in many interesting ways that Tumblr can be leveraged as part of an omni-channel strategy. The way that we see it most commonly used right now is as more of a campaign.
Spieckerman: Do any particular examples come to mind?
Coe: Well, Adidas Originals was more about a particular campaign and Made by Nike feels like more of a campaign as well, but I find what Kate Spade is doing particularly interesting. Their Tumblr initiative doesn’t involve commerce but is really an exquisite execution of a Tumblr strategy. They’ve taken everything that they’re doing in other channels, wrapped it together, and aggregated it, and what you get is this really fluid and current snapshot of Kate Spade at a given point in time. I think there’s a lot to be said for that.
Spieckerman: I think that’s a great point because, of course, Kate Spade is part of the Liz Claiborne family and Liz Claiborne, like a lot of companies these days, operates a portfolio of brands and they are trying to create distinct worlds for each of them. Is there an opportunity for Tumblr to make that happen?
Coe: Absolutely, and without making a massive investment and deploying a magnitude of resources. It’s really a matter of leveraging the resources that you already have and getting more out of them. Coming back to Kate Spade, they do a great job of that. They show how inspiring, how visual it can be, and I think that’s the other benefit of Tumblr: how visually expressive it is. The way that we look at that internally is that we try to think about commerce on Tumblr as a gallery-like experience. You initially walk in a gallery for inspiration, and you also go to a Tumblr blog for inspiration, and if you connect with something, you can take it home. It’s not overt price tags hanging all over the place and overt marketing and big banners and things. It’s just knowing that you can take something home if you feel a connection with it. That’s also the difference between going to a gallery and going to a museum.
Spieckerman: I love that metaphor. It really speaks to the uniqueness of the Tumblr platform.
Coe: We try to create that type of experience and then integrate the commerce aspect of it right down to the check out, in terms of how everything overlays the blog itself and sort of tucks up out of the way, which is really non-traditional in itself. We challenged ourselves to think through every little detail and to create a commerce experience that we felt added to the Tumblr experience. We all have that time where we see something on Tumblr and think “I need that. That’s really cool.” Then, you spend the next 30 minutes trying to track down that product. We’re just basically taking that behavior and making it an easier and better experience.
Spieckerman: It’s funny because people talk about physical retail no longer really being that inspiring. Instead of asking, “How do we make physical retail more inspiring?” you’re asking, “How do we create retail where people already are inspired?”
Spieckerman: So many brands these days no longer just operate under a single business model. What role do you see Tumblr Commerce playing in that world, in which a single brand plays in wholesale, owned retail, and direct-to–consumer, and in which there are so many agendas for each?
Coe: It points to the agility of the platform. We’ve engineered the platform so there are levels. At the green level, a retailer can get up to speed quickly and we can work with them to launch a blog and get it up and running in just a couple of weeks. It’s a great fit for launching a product line or promoting an event that’s happening around a brand. It could be tied into fashion week or a specific holiday, for example. Some blogs can work on an eight-week duration and focus on what’s happening during the holidays and what’s on trend. After that, the blog essentially goes away. Or, it can be a completely new commerce channel that they’re committed to on an evergreen basis as a larger, ongoing initiative.
Spieckerman: You’re essentially offering pop-up e-tail.
Coe: Exactly. We think about it in terms of a pop-up shop that doesn’t have to be permanent. Imagine if every brand capitalized on the viral opportunities that occur through Tumblr and that migrate outside of it. We don’t see Tumblr as traditional. You aren’t going to sell everything on Tumblr that you would on your www. You need to think about new, different ways to shop, and when we talk to retailers and brands about offering their customers a new way to engage with their product, it gets really exciting.
Spieckerman: What jumped out at me was the opportunity to tap into the viral nature of Tumblr and monetize it.
Coe: Tumblr is highly viral, especially when it offers something that people haven’t seen before, something presented in a new way, something visual, something that taps into culture and into what’s happening. There is an opportunity for retailers to start thinking about their products in terms of how they relate to what’s going on in the world around us, right now.
Spieckerman: That’s really interesting. Unstructured data and social media-derived data is a big conversation in retail right now. What are your plans for Tumblr Commerce in that regard?
Coe: We focus on categories like fashion and luxury, apparel, and outdoor lifestyle, and we look at the data and present it back to our customers in ways that help them sell. It really is as simple as that. Our model, for the most part, is a percentage play, so selling is mutually beneficial. That’s why we chose the model in the first place. We’re highly motivated to help.
Spieckerman: That are your thoughts on brands creating their own Tumblr solutions versus partnering with Coexist?
Coe: Nike did a great job on the Made by Nike’s Tumblr blog. It’s really well done. Their digital innovation team is great and the resources they have at their disposal are unparalleled. We felt that it validated our concept in a way. It launched at relatively the same time as ours, and to know that we’re on the same page as one of the true leaders in digital marketing and e-commerce was really validating. The big difference is that not all brands have the resources that Nike has and what you get working with Coexist is a huge head start. Our green partners are leveraging us 100% and, for our black partners, we’re leveraging their platforms and leveraging everything that we know. While I have a lot of respect for what Nike did, I also see a couple of misses and things that they might have been able to improve upon. Our exclusive focus is on the platform and on Tumblr, so rather than starting from scratch and learning as they go, brands are able to tap into our expertise. It’s a different platform and, unlike Facebook, where there has been a ton of success and lots of data, Tumblr is a little bit more undiscovered territory.
Spieckerman: Retailers and brands have been so accustomed to marketing in particular ways and on commerce-driven platforms. Given the high engagement factor of Tumblr, do you make recommendations on how to balance the commerce-to-engagement ratio?
Coe: That’s where we’re going now, thinking about how we can best help our partners. I think that it’s by showing them what’s working, giving them ideas, and asking, “Hey, have you thought about this?” What’s exciting is that they’re learning and engaging in different ways on our platform, which is also leading to new opportunities.
Spieckerman: Looking at what you’ve done, it’s very balanced. You’ve been respectful of the Tumblr environment and sensibility.
Coe: That’s the key. We know our place and we want to have more integration with Tumblr. We’d love to have more support from Tumblr rather than asking for it but for now, we’re going to try and earn it.
Spieckerman: Why do you think that major brands and retailers haven’t been all over Tumblr and have perhaps been a bit reluctant to go all-in with it, as opposed to other platforms?
Coe: That’s a difficult question to answer from our point of view because we’re so positive and excited about what’s going on. We see a place for nearly every brand to leverage Tumblr in some way, but it is a unique platform. It’s just a little bit quirkier and some brands don’t see themselves being aligned with a platform that, up until now, has been on the fringe. I think that we’re seeing the change happen right now, and that we’re just a few success stories away from the flood gates opening.
Spieckerman: So, you think that as some brands go first, others will become more comfortable jumping in?
Coe: That’s exactly it. I think there are a lot of leaders out there like Nike, like Kate Spade, that are showing people that this can be a really great and brand-right experience. With Tumblr, you don’t have to choose between commerce and brand engagement that elevates your brand. It does the two simultaneously, and I think it does them both brilliantly as well. For bigger brands, their www sites are built on platforms that are really thorough and rigid. They don’t have a lot of leeway in terms of integrating content into the experience, and the sites become big enterprise tools without a lot of flex. With Tumblr, you can sell while having the experiential component be just as strong.
Spieckerman: Maybe e-commerce, in addition to its sort of inherent rigidity, will forever have a perception problem to overcome, since consumers and shoppers expect an e-commerce site to push messages, promotions, and product. Perhaps that whole environment is forever tainted in terms of creating that kind of balance and there’s no turning back.
Coe: There certainly are expectations, and having worked with a lot of retailers on their shopping experiences, I can say that it’s very different to think about delivering a collection of products through a Tumblr feed than to have a shopper sort through thousands of products and connect with the right one. It’s just a different animal.
Spieckerman: That’s certainly true for now. Do you see a day when Pinterest will cave into that and start creating shopping carts and some sort of commerce?
Coe: I think that’s certainly a valid question. It seems like an obvious play for them to monetize all of the traffic that they’re sending to retailers and there is data about that. What I think about is the anecdotal feedback that I’ve gotten on the experiential model. One issue is that you miss the experiential component with Pinterest. Certainly, there are a lot of collections of photos happening, a lot of great work and a lot of links through to products, and I think there has been pretty good conversion through the site, but for brands, there isn’t a lot of opportunity to tell a story and share an experience on Pinterest. I guess that’s where the Pinterest model falls a bit flat to me. How sustainable is Pinterest, beyond finding a way to become profitable?
Spieckerman: That brings me to your vision for Coexist. What’s next?
Coe: Our vision is to help retailers sell at the point of personal connection, and Tumblr is our first manifestation of that, but thinking about where else that could go is pretty exciting.
Spieckerman: Beyond Tumblr?
Coe: Tumblr is where we are and where we’re going to stay focused for quite a while, but if we think about Coexist in the long term and the future and what the horizon looks like for us, we might be asking the question, “What are other ways that we could sell at that point of personal connection?”
Spieckerman: Could that become a larger proposition that would have applications for multiple platforms?
Coe: Multiple platforms, devices, et cetera, yes.
Spieckerman: Does physical retail play a role?
Coe: Absolutely. The post-it notes on our walls cover the gamut. Right now, we’re focused on Tumblr and are happy to be. At the same time, it’s nice to know, and exciting to know, that there’s a bigger picture out there.
Spieckerman: Thank you for giving me a glimpse into that bigger picture, Dan.
Coe: Thank you, Carol. It’s been great talking to you.
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